Debunking The Myth:
Does Sunscreen Block Vitamin D Absorption?
Since skincare myths don’t exist to be believed, but to be debunked, here’s an icebreaker: wearing sunscreen doesn’t block vitamin D from being synthesized in the skin. A lot of clinical studies show that there isn’t enough prevalent data to become concerned about our vitamin D levels due to using an SPF. Even more so, the health risks of skipping SPF far outweigh any potential benefits. So, let’s see what this fuss is all about.
As you might’ve already heard, the myth has it that wearing sunscreen blocks vitamin D from being synthesized in the skin. Studies, however, have never found that everyday sunscreen use leads to vitamin D insufficiency. People who use sunscreen daily can easily maintain their vitamin D levels by taking a vitamin D supplement and/or consuming some vitamin D-rich foods – such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna. The health risks of skipping SPF far outweigh any potential benefits – so, next time when you consider skipping sun protection, just don’t.
Now that we’ve set the scene, let’s see what we owe all this vitamin D-related fuss to.
Defining vitamin D. What’s the difference between D2 and D3?
Despite the name, vitamin D is not technically a vitamin, but a prohormone (precursor to a hormone). Vitamin D (also referred to as “calciferol”) is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in a few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. It’s also produced endogenously (in your human body!) when ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis.
If you purchase vitamin D supplements, you may see two different forms: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 is made from plants and is found in fortified foods and some supplements. Vitamin D3, on the other hand, can be found in food (mainly fatty fish) but is also produced by the cutaneous conversion of 7-dehydrocholesterol under the action of UVB.
“Vitamin D is key to a body that functions properly.”
Everything you need to know about the benefits of vitamin D
Vitamin D seems to be the key to a body that functions properly, as it’s essential to many bodily functions, such as supporting you through the flu season, bone growth and bone remodeling, reducing inflammation, and preventing type 1 diabetes. It’s safe to say that the chief function of vitamin D is maintaining a calcium balance in our bodies – and it works even better if taken in correlation with the K2 vitamin –,but it also has functions well beyond this (since we’re here to discuss beauty).
The role it plays in skin and hair health is impressive, too.
“The perks of using vitamin D care include a gorgeous mane, hair density, and healthy skin.“
For example, women with the highest blood levels of vitamin D3 are least likely to experience thinning over time, according to recent research. Experts say D helps your body create hair follicles (the “pores” where hair forms), which leads to new hair growth. When it comes to skincare-related perks, they include decreasing inflammation, protecting the skin, decreasing environmental damage, and normalizing cell turnover.
The benefits sound amazingly well, but you might be wondering how much vitamin D intake is enough. So, here we go…
Vitamin D levels. What should you know about them?
A person can have different levels of vitamin D in their body. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, here’s what your vitamin D levels mean:
- Below 30: If your levels are below 30, you’re not getting nearly enough vitamin D and you should discuss taking supplements with your doctor.
- 30 to 50: If your levels are between 30 to 50, you’re getting an adequate amount of vitamin D for your bones and overall health.
- 50 and above: If your levels are above 50, you’re getting an adequate amount of vitamin D, but you should refrain from getting more.
- 125 and above: If your levels are above 125, you’re getting too much vitamin D and it could cause adverse effects.
“A vitamin D level of 50 to 125 is considered adequate for bone and overall health.”
How much vitamin D is enough?
A person’s ability to manufacture vitamin D depends on plenty of factors, such as type (color), sex, body mass index, physical activity, alcohol intake, and vitamin D receptor polymorphisms (variances, which are genetic). Plus, it’s also influenced by climate, time of year, and diet. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, the average (non-deficient) adult should aim for 600 International Units (IU) per day in their diet. Incidental sunlight exposure, supplements, and fortified foods like milk as well as salmon, eggs, and mushrooms are great food sources of vitamin D to make up for the 600 IU of vitamin D intake/day.
Dermatologists believe that when taken orally, it’s fairly difficult to consume a significantly excessive amount of vitamin D. Yet, it’s important to keep in mind that doses of vitamin D beyond 2.000 IU – and up to 4.000 or above conceivably could lead to toxicity. The fat-soluble vitamin can cause excess calcium buildup with nausea, vomiting, mental changes, increased urination, and kidney failure. This is why, even in the case of taking vitamin D supplements, you should check with your physician and discuss any supplements or vitamins before adding them to your regimen.
And if you do decide to go through with it and take it up to your physician, you might find them mentioning the 25-hydroxy vitamin D test. The test is also known as the 25-OH vitamin D test and the calcidiol 25-hydroxy cholecalciferol test, and it shows you what your total vitamin D levels are (D2 + D3). It’s the test you should take if you’d like to have your blood levels of vitamin D analyzed; it determines if your vitamin D levels are too high or too low. What it shows is the total amount of Vitamin D that your body has, regardless of its provenance – be it from sun exposure, supplements, and/or food. Furthermore, it can also be an important indicator of osteoporosis (bone weakness) and rickets (bone malformation).
But how does one build or maintain vitamin D levels, anyway?
Vitamin D absorption: Where can we get our vitamin D from?
It doesn’t take much sun exposure for the body to produce vitamin D. Even committed proponents of unprotected sun exposure recommend no more than 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to arms, legs, abdomen, and back, two to three times a week, followed by good sun protection. More importantly, incidental sunlight exposure, even when you are wearing sunscreen, is enough – say the dermatologists.
There is an ongoing debate about whether vitamin D3 (“cholecalciferol”) is better than vitamin D2 (“ergocalciferol”) at increasing blood levels of the vitamin. Some experts cite vitamin D3 as the preferred form since it’s naturally produced in the body and found in most foods that naturally contain the vitamin.
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna are especially excellent sources. Small amounts are also present in egg yolks, beef liver, and cheese. And many common foods such as milk and orange juice contain vitamin D, too.
While you’re at it, you might also want to check vitamin K2, as current evidence supports the notion that joint supplementation of vitamins D and K might be more effective than the consumption of either alone for bone and cardiovascular health. Vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 ensure that calcium is absorbed easily and reaches the bone mass while preventing arterial calcification. Helping to keep your heart and bones healthy.
After all, does sunscreen use lead to vitamin D deficiency or not?
“The main culprit of getting fine lines and wrinkles, moles, and, in extreme cases, cancer, is the sun.”
Studies don’t show a significant difference between the amount of vitamin D in people who wear sunscreen strictly and those who don’t. In fact, research has shown that even when study participants used sunscreen daily, they did not develop suboptimal levels of vitamin D even without supplementing their intake via other sources.
Sunscreen is very effective at preventing sun damage and burning caused by UV radiation, but even SPF50+ formulations let a small percentage of UV through to the skin, which in turn triggers the body’s natural vitamin D synthesis process. Speaking of which, you should be aware that there are two types of UV light: UVA and UVB.
Now you can breathe easy knowing that we’ve answered the “does sunscreen block vitamin D?” question with a resounding “no” and feel confident when you apply sunscreen. ‘Cause as much as we love a good, hot, sunny day, the main culprit of getting fine lines and wrinkles, moles, and, in extreme cases, cancer, is the sun. Incorporating a good SPF into your routine will save you many years of sagging skin – and, contrary to common belief, it’ll still allow you to get your daily fair share of vitamin D while you’re at it. But if you feel like it ain’t enough, you can always make up for it with supplements and food.
And always remember: skincare myths don’t exist to be believed, but rather to be debunked.